ISTANBUL - Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets yesterday to demand the release of a reporter, who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush, as Arabs across many parts of the Middle East hailed the journalist as a hero and praised his protest as a proper send-off to the unpopular U.S. president.
"I'm pretty good at ducking, as most of you know," Bush joked after the insult, calling an incident "bizarre." As Al-Baghdadia television, the Iraqi-owned station that employs the shoe-attacker, demanded yesterday the release of al-Zeidi, Saddam Hussein's former lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said he was forming a team to defend the Iraqi journalist.
Showing the sole of your shoe to someone in the Arab world is a sign of extreme disrespect, and throwing your shoes is even worse.
Newspapers across the Arab world yesterday printed front-page photos of Bush ducking the flying shoes, and satellite TV stations repeatedly aired the incident, which provided fodder for jokes and was hailed by the president's many critics in the region. "Iraq considers Sunday as the international day for shoes," said a joking text message circulating around Riyadh.
The Iraqi government, however, branded al-Zeidi's actions as "shameful" and demanded an apology from his Cairo-based employer, which in turn was calling for his immediate release from custody. "This is a farewell kiss, you dog," al-Zeidi yelled in Arabic as he threw his shoes.
Al-Zeidi's tirade was echoed by Arabs across the Middle East who are fed up with U.S. policy in the region and still angry over Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein.
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the influential London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, wrote on the newspaper's Web site that the incident was "a proper goodbye for a war criminal." The response by Arabs in the street was ecstatic. Ghazi Abu Baker, a shopkeeper in the West Bank said, "This journalist should be elected president of Iraq for what he has done."
In Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City, thousands of supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burned American flags to protest against Bush and called for the release of al-Zeidi. "Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head," the Shiite protesters chanted in unison.
Colleagues of al-Zeidi, meanwhile, told Agence France-Presse that he "detested America" and had been plotting such an attack for months against the man who ordered the invasion of his country.
"Any measures against Muntazer will be considered the acts of a dictatorial regime," said Al-Baghdadia television.